Small, isolated towns are really neat. The same way Nickelodeon Gak was really neat the first time you bought some. You played with it for a few minutes – “No way, it sounds like a FART!”- noticed your fingers now smelled like ass, and you moved on to something else. Along these lines, the Sonoma and Mendocino County Coast – hereafter referred to as Mendonoma – is like a really big, smelly finger.

I visited my grandparents at Sea Ranch for Thanksgiving this year. Sea Ranch is a lush eco-village, miles and miles from the nearest big city. It’s short on phone service and long on redwoods, and instead of lawnmowers they use a flock of sheep. Lawnmowers are baa-nned, I guess.

Two days in, I walk outside and take a deep breath of crisp, fresh air, glad to be alive. Today I’m going to drive up Highway 1 and check out some towns in Mendocino.

I turn the ignition. My Prelude fires up with a throaty growl and slinks down the dirt driveway, ready to run. I turn on my windshield wipers to clear some debris.

The wipers move across the windshield slowly, painfully, as if crippled with arthritis. My digital gauges flicker and fade. The car shudders, shimmies and then finally just dies. Um … crap.

I start the car again. She roars to life … and then dies a half second later. Start it again – roars and buckles, the same thing. I wish she wouldn’t start at all, so I could just blame it on a dead battery. The tease.

Here’s what happens when something goes wrong out in the sticks. Were this L.A, I would dial up my Honda mechanic. But Sea Ranch doesn’t have Honda mechanics … or any mechanics. I head to the next best thing: JR’s Auto Care in Gualala, a mile to the north.

There’s one guy on staff. Crew cut, about my age. “Sorry, there’s no mechanic here today. We’re closed until Monday.”

Rule #1: Nobody is open in the woods the day after Thanksgiving.

I call AAA to get the car towed to the nearest big city Honda dealer. The nearest tow truck to Sea Ranch is in Elk, 33 miles north. A very friendly guy named Sam tells me the truck is on the way as we speak … should be there in two hours.

Five minutes later: “Actually, we’re awfully loaded up today. It would be better if I could come down tomorrow. Sorry, we’re very spontaneous.”

Five minutes later: “This is Bob, Sam’s assistant. I don’t know what he was talking about – it makes much more sense to come today. I’ll be there in an hour. We’re very spontaneous.”

I predict it’ll take an hour and a half. The Elk Garage is the only AAA-certified towing company in Mendonoma, which means one tow truck covers 80 miles of coastline.

Rule #2: There is always a shortage of labor.

The tow truck arrives two hours and 45 minutes later. “Sorry about that,” Bob, a kind-eyed, elderly gentleman, says. “They had to clear a bunch of debris off the road. We’re very spontaneous.”

Rule #3: Highway 1 sucks … and the Elk Garage is very spontaneous.

I have a choice of two cities to tow my car to: Ukiah and Santa Rosa. AAA recommends Ukiah, which they say is only 30 miles from Gualala. Ha! As the crow flies. In reality, the fastest route inland to Ukiah is along Mountain View Road – 64 moping and meandering miles. Santa Rosa is 71, but I pick it anyway … out of principle.

Rule #4: Don’t believe AAA’s lies, and study a map.

Sadly, AAA has the last laugh. After the first 5 miles of towing, you’re charged $5.50 per mile. You can do the math.

Rule #5: AAA Plus … get it.

While I adore Mendonoma and its way of life, remember Rule #6 this Winter Break: Don’t save car repairs until you get back home.

As I’m typing this, I’m holed up in a Santa Rosa motel, 375 miles north of campus. I have a Film Studies 192B paper due tomorrow. I’m still not sure if I’ll be back tomorrow. I’m still not sure if I’ve started my paper.

Meanwhile, the Honda dealer next door laughs. God dammit.